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Cultures of Violence in the Age of Casino Capitalism

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Posted on Dec 19, 2013
Hakan Dahlstrom (CC BY 2.0)

By Henry A. Giroux, Truthout

(Page 4)

One starting point for addressing the necessity of a radical democracy might be an international movement for the defense of public goods, especially higher education. As such, higher education would be reclaimed and defended as a democratic public sphere and public good rather than a privilege or private right. Such an education should be financed by public funds, committed to pedagogy as the practice of freedom, governed in a democratic fashion, defined as a center of critique, and dedicated to teaching students how to write, learn important skills and think critically. It should also immerse students in those archives of knowledge that enable the full development of the capacities essential to be thoughtfully engaged and socially responsible citizens of the world.

A radical democracy implies a politics, consciousness and ethical commitment that takes seriously a level of shared beliefs, a respect for the commons, and practices that allow the fullest application of the principles of equality, freedom, justice and popular control. Radical democracy is not strictly about matters of process, representation, political, and personal rights. It is also about the development of a radical consciousness along with an investment in economic and social rights—those social and economic provisions that enable people to be free from the deprivations of hunger, shelter, unemployment, and inadequate health care, among others. The very idea of a radical democracy is impossible without the existence of a radical imagination and public vision in which it becomes possible to envision conditions in which people participate in and shape all levels of power and decision making. That is, as Stanley Aronowitz puts it, “in which decisions are lodged with those directly affected by them, a realignment of economy and the polity entailing the reintegration of various aspects of life with smaller regional economic and social units.”

In this instance, radical democracy both registers the need for a critical consciousness as the precondition for people to exercise power in all spheres of life in which power shapes the economic, political and social conditions of their everyday lives and accentuates the need to provide a “critique of centralized power of every sort - charismatic, bureaucratic, class, military, corporate, party, union and technocratic.” Power and politics in this instance, are about more than economics; they are also about and constitutive of how ideas, hegemony, and those cultural apparatuses engaged in forms of public pedagogy shape desires, needs, values, identities and modes of agency. At the same time, it must be recognized that political democracy cannot exist without economic democracy.

A radical democracy is also grounded in a revolutionizing logic in which the conditions for its fulfillment are always under question and indeed have no final or complete end point. Hence, a radical democracy must be viewed as “stubbornly incomplete and the human condition underdetermined.” Jean-Luc Nancy is right in arguing that a radical democracy is a space of endless determinations, which suggests the need to allow differences to emerge peacefully as a central element of critical exchange, dialogue and thoughtfulness.  At stake here is the need to adjudicate conflict thoughtfully without violence and to respond to the myriad forms of “powerlessness that affect citizens of all class and social strata.” Radical democracy must resist all closure while at the same time arguing for those principles and institutions “in which the democratic ideals of equality, freedom and popular control are allowed their most complete sway and fullest application.” In defense of such a position, Jacques Derrida points out convincingly that radical democracy is a “democracy to come - because it is the only name for a political regime which declares its historicity and its imperfectability.” For Derrida, it is “something that has never existed in a satisfactory way and remains to come. Democracy is a politics and mode of governance that must always put itself at issue, calling into question the consequences of its regulative principles, while repeatedly assessing the reality of existing institutions against the need for more justice, freedom and equality. This is not a call for endless purification, which can only lead to violence, but the call for a society in which democracy becomes synonymous with power for and by the people so as to expand the parameters of justice, dignity and compassion for all people.


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Radical democracy is rooted in an acceptance of its historicity and imperfectability, thus demanding a constant measure of self-questioning, criticism and critical engagement. Such a democracy implies a refusal of an endpoint, final stage or end of history narrative. Instead, it stresses what Samir Amin has termed “democratization - which stresses the dynamic aspect of a still-unfinished process.” Inherent in such a democracy is the need for labor to be subordinate to free time, experienced as a luxury rather than a deprivation, thus demanding a society that provides a social wage, democratized workplaces, egalitarian social services, ecologically sustainable technologies, free education and crucial social provisions.  Democracy in this sense embodies an unrelenting fidelity and obligation not to perfectibility but to justice and an endless responsibility, as Jacques Derrida insists, to “the ghosts of those who are not yet born or who are already dead.” Matters of pedagogy must be central to any politics that embraces a notion of radical democracy. The agents necessary for such a radical democratic politics can only be constructed through a critical formative culture and public pedagogy produced largely through the media, education and other cultural apparatuses that enable people to be effective political and ethical agent who can think critically, communicate to broader publics, and will organize collectively to implement and fight for a radical vision of democracy.  There is nothing that guarantees the existence of a sustainable radical democracy. Democracy in all of its forms has to be fought for, struggled over, and such struggles have to be relentless because of the possibility that democracy can never guarantee its own existence. The struggle against casino capitalism must begin as not only a struggle over power, but as a concerted and widespread attempt to make education central to politics, to address what it means to change the way in which people see things, learn how to govern rather than be governed, and embrace a collective sense of agency in which history and the future is open.

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